The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.― Audre Lorde
“The best way to avoid being confused about [Caitlin] Jenner is get your head out of [her] bedroom and closet, and then think about all of the things you’ve been hiding and been miserable about. … Just focus on the feeling of finally disclosing something that enables you to be free and to live as authentically as possible. …[then] you will no longer be confused.” ― Robin Caldwell
To study marginalized girls and digital seduction online means I also have to constantly revisit and stay current with ways people are thinking and moving from what they think they know about gender (vs. sex), gender roles, gender stratification or the unequal distribution of multiple forms of capital on YouTube. I do this so I can try to accurately interpret how gender performance is at work within the digital ecologies and spaces of YouTube and not just in rap music videos. I need to understand how vloggers/creators as well as viewers and invisible audiences are grappling with those ideas.
This week as we study the socio-cultural construction of gender in my intro to anthro courses, an ambitious and curious student reminded me of the Genderbread Person. The designer of this brilliant graphic and meme is Sam Killermann (ya can’t make these names up). He writes: “Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but don’t. This tasty little guide is meant to be an appetizer for understanding. It’s okay if you’re hungry for more.” – See more at: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2015/03/the-genderbread-person-v3/#sthash.c9Nmralr.dpuf
He has three versions in the evolution of the Genderbread Person by Sam Killermann. One of my favorite pages on his website is Breaking Through the Binary. Check out the evolution of his ideas:
Teaching students to revise their ideas is what shows up when I see these three versions. Crafting a practice of revision of thought is so essential as new media seduces us to click-whirr and simply save cognitive energy by merely reading and accepting what comes across our feed. There’s little time to revise and reflect or as Audre Lorde suggests in the quote above to redefine and re-empower the process of thinking not thoughting. That’s it for now!
Happy queering your thinking not your thought, people!!
“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “It’s a girl.” ― Shirley Chisholm
My intro anthro courses will be conducting video content analysis on the 1000 videos of black girls (13-17 and younger) twerking in my dataset. We will analyze the intersectionality of race, gender and age on YouTube.
They will work in pairs to analyze 15 videos each based on scholarly research on video coding and content analysis. I am working out the intersectional categories they will focus on together. With many teams we can analyze subcultural features at the same time. Each team will choose a code or two to analyze in their subset of videos. It might be focusing on sexualization of adolescent girls, YouTube personal vlogging, rap music videos and video vixens, or new media ecology, etc. They will find three scholarly articles to help them think like a social scientist about video content analysis and/or YouTube content creation.
Today I got this email from one of my 90 students. She is a non-black, twenty-something year old, undergrad. She wrote:
I had an interesting experience today that I wanted to tell you about.
Today, I was babysitting a young girl, 7yo, and we were creating things out of clay. We decided to make a couple and she asked me to help her making the girl. She told me that the girl has to be tall and has to have a GAP BETWEEN HER TIGHTS! I asked her why and she said that that is how pretty and skinny girls look like. I told her that I don’t have gap between my tights and asked her if she things I am fat or ugly (believe me we have very honest and good relationship-we tell each other things). And she just froze and said no. And I could see how honestly she meant that and how she started thinking how come I am not ugly or fat when I don’t have gap between my tights. ( I messed up her mental map [of reality–a concept from our anthro textbook] I guess- can that be the case?)
And that make me think about twerking. If we communicate to a girl at tender age of seven this twisted image of how beautiful girl/woman looks like, couldn’t one of the reasons for black girls to twerk [sic] be that this is what cool/desirable/…. girls(women) do?
I am not sure if that has any value for our research, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you.”
I wrote her back with glee “YES!!!” This is one of those turning points in the learning process. It makes teaching and learning around vulnerable topics all the more worthwhile.
Our textbook introduced the concept of “zeros”
Elements of a story or a picture that are not told or seen and yet offer key insights into issues that might be too sensitive to discuss or display publicly.
Most students would not think like me that mentioning a “thigh gap” likely tells me that the little girl is not black. Perhaps it’s biology–I rarely see black women with thigh gaps. Perhaps it’s because we tend to be thick versus thin in our hips. Surely there are black girls with and who desire a thigh gap. I did when Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince aired on commercial TV from 1975 to 1979. That was a year before Roots aired on ABC.
I was a true adolescent when I was watching actress Linda Carter twirl into her supernatural power. She was sexy and it was all about her body. Her thigh gap was real but I knew her powers were not. This was TV! After watching, I looked at my body in the mirror and thought…and this sounds crazy in hindsight only…but I thought “I don’t have a gap so how will I be able to have sex? There’s no room down there.” In other words, who will find me attractive? I didn’t see it in myself. All I noticed was that I was missing that gap and from my adolescent point of view it signified what it meant to be a wonder, to be alluring, to be a woman. That way of seeing still has me decades later.
That thought plagued my adolescent brain as my looking-glass self kept reminding me how I needed/wanted to be viewed by others. To be liked. I wanted to conform or contort my body to fit some hegemonic view imposed from merely watching television. No one told me you need a gap. My mother had no thigh gap. No boy said “Oh, I wish you had a gap!” I recall talking with other girls about it once. But none of my friends had thigh gaps. Well, Bernadette did! She was a neighborhood girl who tortured me later in high school. She was light-skinned-ed, skinny and tall compared to the rest of the girls in 8th grade. I was a loner. And I didn’t share my thoughts with other girls. I rarely do now. This is why voice is so important to the work I am doing. Finding your voice is key to empowering girls in my view to combat how prevalent the body is around the socialization of the female body in social and televised media.
Vids of Very Young Girls
My students, 90 in all in Spring 2015 semester, are just starting to learn how to conduct fieldwork and ethnography from Chapter 3 in the textbook titled Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age by my department colleague Ken Guest.
Since this is a new textbook I am using this term, I took a suggestion from a senior sociology colleague and friend at the CUNY Grad Center. He suggested I have my students participate in a research project around my data instead of having them write papers as I ordinarily do.
So far, I have only introduced my students this term to one twerking video. Two week ago I blogged about it.I recently changed the title to: “Privacy? (No!) Adversity? (You Bet!): Black Girls’ Bedroom Twerking”. It features an 8 year old twerking on YouTube. I’ve flagged this video on March 6th for child abuse because the girl is below the YouTube age minimum and the comments are “grooming” her to make another video in her “panties”. In the past, flagging videos has not worked but it’s something I am hoping to publicize to protect very young girls from such harm.
The Vulnerable Classroom
Teaching around this ethnographic fieldwork is really, really complicated as danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated points to. It involves virtual impressions and moving images that are misread, misinterpreted and often stigmatized. It features underage girls whom far too many of us do not assign agency. We perceive their lack of agency as being complicit in some symbolic action of soliciting sexual attention and they they are giving consent to male viewers to slut-shame them.
It involves dance moves that are racialized and sexualized by generalized others. These moves in visual motion can awaken sensual reactions that are usually reserved for private encounters and are perceived and sensed differently by women and men, girls and boys, in ways that are blurred by the broadcast nature of the medium. And watching twerking videos mirrors a reality, no more accurately, it mirrors a mental map of reality that for many role-takers (parents, teachers, older folk, strangers, moral high grounders, etc.) in public are highly agitated by. It’s particularly agitating when it comes to any association with stigmas about black girls or sexual adolescent girls. Another thing, it’s all about the female realm in a domestic sphere — bedroom culture — which given the emphasis on race and gender, on black femaleness, it’s complicated by issues of culture, power, hegemony, and stratification. Topics most undergrads are not facile with understanding yet. Oh!! And if that isn’t complicated enough, my students and I occasionally watch these videos in a disembodied academic setting, a college classroom at a public university known for its wide range of ethnicity diversity as well as religions. THIS. IS. COMPLICATED ETHNOGRAPHIC WORK AND PEDAGOGY.
This is vulnerable ethnography as well as vulnerable and critical teaching and learning in mixed company. I have to help these diverse emerging adults accept that there are risks affecting the youngest, darkest, and socially most vulnerable YouTube participants and convince them that this is academic work. I have to help them not get lost in the fascination with what’s viral–YouTube viral videos–and learn to critically analyze a rich and extremely educative site of study–digital media and new media ecologies. I, too, am constantly challenging my own mental maps of reality as a result.
“Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”
― Dr. Seuss
Where Have All the Children Gone?
As I watch YouTube videos of black girls who twerk, as I invite and request my students to study their performance as both play and to examine how others’ views of black girls’ childhood are distorted and distorting how those girls see themselves, I have been remembering my earlier work on black girls’ games. I don’t want to lose that black girls are children at play while also critiquing what it means to play with self (sexual)-objectification. This video doesn’t have that objectification piece in it from the girl or the boys. Check it out. Perhaps introducing this music and dance to adolescents would be interesting. Having them analyze its difference from US twerking in videos.
PS What I love about this video also is that they are playing freely in the mud after a rain in their yard.
“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”
~ Fred Rogers (from the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)
Your destiny is to develop the courage to flesh out the great dreams, to dare to love, to dare to care, to dare to want to be significant and to admit it, not by the things you own or the positions you hold, but by the lives you live.
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)
What if courage was a place called home?
What if courage was a place we called home? What if the rising Maya Angelou spoke into existence from “Still I Rise” was a returning to one’s self, one’s spirit, what one was put her on the planet to do fuller than you, your ego, will allow you to see in the storm? This is the gift of the life of Dr. Maya Angelou. I call her doctor cuz she’s been our shaman of humanity, from its dark recesses with its darts and its dawns of soft slow rising or blazing revelations. I bless her today as her homegoing service just concluded at 12:30 today livestreamed online by Wake Forest University, her academic home.
De-segregation of spirit: Be ready!
We black girls and women have a special place in our hearts for what Maya Angelou provided before we even read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. She sang my song for me before I knew it had a tune. She recalled my mother’s and my mother’s mother’s journeys before Segregation. She stood as a testament to we are not our past and we are always creating our future and that everything we do in life we define. The creative act of rising to each bitter and sweet occasion whether lied about or to, whether talked about or called out of our names as bitches, hos, mammys, negras, or even when we aren’t even aware of our own self-destruction, we still have the opportunity in this life to rise.
So all there is is to be ready!! Be willing. You and I are always able!!
Rest in power, in our love, and in our future endeavors to rise to all you left for us to create from Dr. Maya!!
“somebody/ anybody sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/ struggle/ hard times
sing her song of life
she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice
her infinite beauty
she’s half-notes scattered
without rhythm/ no tune
sing her sighs sing the song of her possibilities sing a righteous gospel
let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly.”
What if courage was a place called home for black girls, for black women, for all women, for all of humanity to sing from? What if we brought this to our notions of our online reputation and how we present our self in the media? Black girls pay attention!! It matters more than most for you to represent without falling into somebody’s respectability politics but to consider your own future identity which only you can build but hundreds online will encourage you to damage. Be ready!!
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
In my previous post inspired by learning that the Juicy J Scholarship site on WSHH has gone down, I shared lessons 1 and 2:
Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.
Lesson #2: Capture everything that is meaningful while you work with online media.
These were more tech oriented lessons that a new digital ethnographer of YouTube must consider in collecting data online. Here’s part 2 of the post. It was way too long to subject you to in one sitting.
This set of lessons speaks more to my upcoming political sociology course. I needed a thrust for the semester. Some way to make it both real and relevant. I call this the “going public” part of every course I teach. It usually involves 1) sharing whatever we learn with people outside the academy, 2) collaborative learning, and 3) often but not always a publication of work in the public sphere.
A Relevant Pedagogical Aside:
Check out my curated op-eds by Baruch students from 2011 released on MLK day that year, dedicated to James Baldwin, titled Could You Be the Bigger Nigger?on Scribd.com (View count: 7700+). Check it out and please rate it if you like it the idea and/or the project and share it with both teachers and students in high school and college!
On to the final three lessons I learned doing a digital ethnography of twerking on YouTube.
Lesson #3: Stop and Think! Find Other Solutions When Data Goes Missing
This past Saturday, I had just shared with a sister in Harlem about my aims for my political sociology course that starts next week. In the conversation, I convinced myself that studying the Juicy J site was a perfect plan for the semester. Stop and think. What could I do that would be equally engaging and how could I use it still to teach my political sociology course? What about involving all 36 students in the sociological analysis of the 67,000 videos results that are yielded by a search of “Juicy J scholarship contest” on YouTube’s massive archive?
OK 67,000 is too large, but we can choose a significant sample of say 200 contest videos. Maybe some other sociology or anthropology professor could do the same and we could compare and contrast our methods and results.
What fascinates me about the idea is that my students and I can collaborate to study and analyze the political sociology of the contestests’ submissions (where they all women? all cisgendered?) while we learn and study from a new textbook by Dobratz, Waldner and Buzzell titled Power, Politics and Society: An Introduction to Political Sociology (2012).
I may no longer have access to the top-rated and most-popular videos in Juicy J’s contest, but there still remains a huge pool of valuable and meaningful data on YouTube that will allow us to study on race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, socioeconomic class and social-class values, and age relative to adolescent black girlhood, youth dance culture and the exploration of emerging adulthood through embodied musical practices among black and non-black women. The top-rated videos would have added a real powerful dimenstion to the study that students might find fascinating but all’s well because of YouTube.
Here are some thoughts about how I intend to link the study of hip-hop music videos and twerking videos around the following chapter themes. Would love comments and other ideas if you’d care to share. Here’s what I am thinking:
Chapter 1 Power
C. Wright Mills wrote (1959: 181): “Power has to do with whatever decisions men make about the arrangments under which they live, and about the events which make up the history of their times…men are free to make history but some are much freer than others.” (Dobratz et. al, 3).
In the social settings of online always-on media, what kinds of power do black girls/women twerking have and what kind of power (economic, social and structural) do the owners in the recording industry who produce hip-hop videos via VEVO or the owners of social media distribution sites like WSHH and YouTube have around these women’s user-generated content?
Chapter 2 Role of the State In this chapter, democracy is discussed after distinguishing the nation from the state. “Markoff (2005) contends that there is a great deal of variation in ‘democratic’ nations, with some having widespread violations of civil liberties [my concern is about minors and black girls] despite holding free elections and others so ineffecient at providing basic government services that they are termed low quality democracies” (Dobratz et. al, 47).
From a class-based view of the state, the FCC once monitored public airwaves like radio and TV to protect minors from harm by advertisers and content creators. Since YouTube or WSHH are privatized entities, they are not bound by any laws to protect minors from harm, and you cannot make a request based on the FOIA — Freedom of Information Act — for such a privatized company to share its data or the ‘user-generated’ data it used to promote the contest or to hide incriminating data affecting the politics of youth culture, gender, or patriarchal abuses in the corporate personhood of capitalism)
Chapter 3 Politics, Culture & Social Processes This chapter includes a discussion of the “faces of ideology” Are black girls and other non-black girls the faces of ideology in hip-hop–with their asses?)
Chapter 4 Politics of Everyday Life: Political Economy
This chapter deals with the Welfare State: “all people in American society benefit from these programs” (Dobratz et. al, 130). Corporate welfare is called “wealthfare” or “phantom welfare”. How much money does the record industry make from hiphop and from YouTube’s music videos, which occupies 90% of its most-watched videos? The other part of the welfare system “has been referred to as public assistance programs that are funded through general government revenues” (ibid.) from the income of the working classes of Americans often legislated through Congress or state-level government.
How are changes in public assistance programs for college student loans and the feminization of poverty among college-age mothers apparent among the user-generated videos submitted for the Juicy J contest? Check this submission video of a black woman sharing what it means to have to “pay outta pocket” (1:40″) for college.
The remaining chapters offer similar correspondences that we could make between the twerking videos and hte politics of power, people and the state in our society:
Chapter 5 Politics of Everyday Life: Social Institutions and Social Relations Chapter 6 Political Participation Chapter 7Elections and Voting Chapter 8 Social Movements Chapter 9 Violence and Terrorism Chapter 10 Globalization
I believe having students learn to how to make their own assessment and perhaps a powerful argument about the impact of music and hyperconnectivity on the Always On Generation, how entertainment information overload and hyperstimulation of explicit mainstream hip-hop video content by distributors like the always-on VEVO and WSHH in tandem with viral twerking videos always available as user-generated content that girls and women upload themselves may (or may not) suggest, using various methods, a kind a sociologial warfare being waged on girls and all youth via linguistic violence (Gay 1997). We will see.
Lesson #4: Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive
In the past, perhaps a sign of naivête from my own feminine insecurity in a patriarchal world, I’ve wanted to get mad and turn off when things like this happen. I turn away. Jump on the bandwagon and fight! Or make snap judgments without assessing the problem at hand as if media is always evil even in the age of YouTube. Immersive ethnographic study requires staying power. So, I’m stickin’ and stayin’ but I am trying to catch my faux pas’s too. This digital ethnomusicological research on twerking has a robust potential to say some things that aren’t easy to find, say or see in our society around black popular music cultures.
Last year I had my snap judgements about Lil Wayne’s viral YouTube video released on Valentine’s Day titled “Love Me.” I have written about what I learned after some analysis in a forthcoming chapter of a book on Obama and Hip-hop edited by Travis Lars Goma and Erik Nielsen. I was amassed at the social impact this media may be having on girls. The YouTube video had amassed over 63 million within four months, which seems big but is dwarfed by videos by white male rappers in the mainstream. Yet this traffic is not insignificant. To date, it has yielded over 100 million views in just under a year. What was noticable then based on YouTube statistics up through June 2013, when the format changed–another lesson in capturing things–was how they revealed that females ages 13-17 and 18-24 lead in its audience demographics not males 13-17. Males 18-24 came after the two female demographics. Gives credence to the hook in the song: “Long as my bitches love me. I don’t give a f#ck about no haters, long as my bitches love me.” The music industry trades on this seduction of girls.
So “Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive” because the most damaging war of revolution is not being waged simply between “these thighs” as Sarah Jones once rapped (learn about how a recording of this poetry was banned by the FCC back in 2001). The actual war is being waged over our minds and our attention. A soft head in this sense will make for a tougher life esp. as the feminization of poverty widens. The mental slavery of women continues in new ways on YouTube in my opinion.
NOTE: If you’re looking for a broader context on sex, gender and desire in commercial music videos, broadening the analysis beyond black artists or hip-hop, check out Sut Jhally’s DreamWorlds III. Here’s a clip. These issues are not limited to hip-hop not music and any rapper using tired old argument about sexism exists in the broader public needs to move on.
Please like or comment. Engagement is a pathway to higher learning. The views in my head require feedback to know whether it makes senses beyond my internal logic.
After spending all of my adult life on what I will generously call the Left, I have become suspicious and uninterested in any Art tied to an ism. I agree with Adrienne Rich’s call for an art that “goes to the edge of meaning” as well as Art that discovers new resonance in the familiar. But, if ever we need an avant- garde (for lack of a better term), it is now.
This essay/talk was given by poet by Sekou Sundiata. Must read. This doc was discussed and dissected at HarlemStage Friday night. It challenges people of color and “people of whiteness” to rethink not diversity but our democracy and this State. A poet, Sekou speaks also to the power of words, imagination and art to facilitate the 51st state of our union.
My work has always existed at the intersection of art and democracy with girls, learning and ethnography at the center of it. Socialization of self, group and how we represent ourselves in seemingly sovereign ways to others and how we seek to maintain our cultural values and ways in this democracy.